Outstreched arm

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Recipe: Salmon Kinda Dukish

Salmon Kinda Dukish

Salmon Wellington with lobster mushroom duxelles and Saga cheese sauce + baked chips


- ~1/4 cup dried lobster or oyster mushrooms
- 1/2 cup each red and white wine
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup shallots
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- thyme
- salt and black pepper

Bring white wine and broth with the bay leaf in it to a boil in a small pot, remove from heat and pour into a cup. Place the dried mushrooms in it for 15-20 minutes. Strain and finely chop the mushrooms and reserve the broth. Remove the bay leaf.

In the same pot, heat olive oil and add shallots. Saute for 1 minute over medium heat and add red wine. Heat until about half the wine evaporates (a few minutes) and add the mushrooms. Heat for another minute, then add the broth. Reduce over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the water is gone and you're left with a stuffing-consistency mixture.

Saga sauce:

- 2 oz Saga cheese (a soft, blue-veined chese; substitute gorgonzola or bleu cheese)
- 1-2 tbsp milk
- 1 tsp cream cheese (optional)

Blend the three ingredients with a fork. Add enough milk to give it a yogurt consistency.


- 1 large potato, washed and brushed, not peeled
- Cajun spice mix (cayenne, paprika, onion powder, black pepper, salt...)
- olive oil

Slice the potato thinly on a mandolin slicer. Brush a large, shallow baking pan with olive oil and arrange the slices in it on one layer. Sprinkle with spice. Bake at 425 F for 15-20 minutes. Watch them - they will burn easily.

Putting it all together:

- 1 salmon fillet or steak
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
- 1 egg white

There are lots of steps to this recipe; you should be multi-tasking. First start defrosting the puff pastry as you make the duxelle. Make the sauce whenever, throw the Wellington in the oven with the chips.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 F. Place the salmon on a shallow pan and put in the oven for no more than 5 minutes, just to stiffen it a little. Remove and set aside to cool.

Spread the puff pastry sheet on a pastry cloth and roll it with a rolling pin into a square large enough to fold around the fillet (the pastry might be too big; just trim off the excess). Spoon the duxelles in a shallow, even layer in the shape of the fillet in the middle of the pastry square. Place the salmon on it and top with about half the Saga sauce. Fold the sides of the pastry sheet over the fillet and close it; make sure there are no holes for the sauce to leak out of. Also, work on a well-floured surface so the pastry doesn't stick.

Place the Wellington on a greased, shallow baking pan and brush with the egg white. Bake at 425 F for ~20 minutes or until golden.

Serve with the chips and the rest of the Saga sauce. Yay!

P.S. Duke Ellington = Kinda like Wellington => 'Kinda Dukish', which is an Ellington (not Wellington) song. Got it?

Like calamari with chocolate

The Squid and The Whale is a good movie. Very well acted, confidently shot, pleasantly paced. That said, I still can't get into the Wes Anderson/Noah Baumbach milieu; there's a limit to my intake of self-involved, therapy-needing, poorly communicating characters, of weakly epiphanic scenes set to crescendoing emo, of miniatures that are supposedly funny because we all hate remembering that they happened to us at some embarrassing point. I don't passionately dislike these devices, but I always feel this need to explain my dissatisfaction with them for two reasons: one, these movies are very popular among my friends, and two, I think that they're flawed on a subtle level.

A digresison: Frances McDormand was reportedly unsure about the Coens' attitude toward the simple folk of Minnesota in Fargo - were they ridiculing them? No, the Coens said; they are jealous of the common people's effortless ease. It's possible that Anderson and Baumach feel the same way. But then why do they portray painfully unhappy heroes? It's not bad art, but it gets to be unwatchable. Maybe it's the fact that the characters' "urbannui" seems to be their own damn fault, not an inescapable condition of humanity? (A common theme in other self-destructive, ponderous characters back to Merchant of Venice's Antonio and later.)

At times it appears that the attitude in, say, The Squid and The Whale is what McDormand was afraid of: ridicule of human imperfection. Why doesn't anyone succeed, triumph, enjoy? The sole purpose (in the narrative) of Joan's literary success seems to be a mocking of Bernard's failure in the same field. For all of Ivan-the-tennis-instructor's unaffected smoothness, he's a joke character, isn't he? All the comic moments are based on shame and discomfort - why so cynical, Noah? Why so caustic, Wes?

The movie is apparently at least partly autobiographical. This is its theoretical strength, but in reality my own emotional conclusion is that mild family upsets may not translate into great art the way poverty, war, and clinical mental problems do; they translate into something close to the eye-rollable kvetchiness of Woody Allen at his most annoying.

Added later: Ok, I'm being quite kvetchy myself. There are some genuinely amusing and meaningful scenes in The Squid: when Walt is busted for plagiarizing a Pink Floyd song, his faux-confident response to his shrink is priceless: "I felt like I could have written it, so the fact that I didn't was really just a technicality." The shrink's "I see..." attitude is a moment of normalcy Baumbach and Anderson could really milk more instead of insisiting on what Kevin Murhpy called "aggressive quirkiness."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Columno - a simple tool for reading e-texts

Here's a lesson all good designers are familiar with: wide columns of text suck. Just try reading that top paragraph on W3C's homepage - it induces headache. Your eyes just weren't built for copy formatted that way. But once you narrow down your columns, you're left with the problem of scrolling; another straining activity. It subjects your eyes to choppy animation, and you have to find your place in the text after you scroll.

So, what's the solution when you have to read lots of text on the computer? E-book readers employ all sorts of fancy paging techniques to present text in book-like form (the form that has, over centuries, evolved a number of well calibrated features which make it "optimal"). But they have problems of their own (cost, having to buy e-books, often messy interfaces).

I made an attempt at solving at least some of these problems; I present to you Columno, a book-like web text reader. I've only just put together a stable release, so it comes with a few caveats:
  • It only works on Gecko 1.8 browsers (Firefox 1.5, Camino 1.0).
  • What do I read with it? Free e-texts from Project Gutenberg, for one.
  • Errors are possible, but most things should work.
It's a very limited application and probably not of much interest to the general public, but if you've been dying to read that e-text, knock yourself out. Columno will let you read it, leave a bookmark, come back, and continue where you stopped.

I'm looking forward to feedback!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Don't go too far, honey

I'm not exactly a fan of Mickey Klaus' Kausfiles over at Slate. While he can be refreshingly succinct, too often he gets stuck in "neener neener" mode ("No, really, Brokeback Mountain isn't all that popular or all that good! Really!"). Yesterday he quoted an Ann Coulter piece on Natalee Holloway which, according to him, makes a point not often made. It's actually not too bad, but it's not all that insightful either. It's worth quoting in full; I'll comment as I go.

However the Duke lacrosse rape case turns out, one lesson that absolutely will not be learned is this: You can severely reduce your chances of having a false accusation of rape leveled against you if you don't hire strange women to come to your house and take their clothes off for money.

1. I'm not convinced that no one will learn the lesson. It seems likely to me that at least some frat boys will, at least temporarily, go easy on the strippers.
2. How many rape accusations from hired strippers is she aware of? I'm not saying I have the answer; it just doesn't seem so casually obvious to me.

Also, you can severely reduce your chances of being raped if you do not go to strange men's houses and take your clothes off for money. ...


And if you are a girl in Aruba or New York City, among the best ways to avoid being the victim of a horrible crime is to not get drunk in public or go off in a car with men you just met. ...

Thanks, mom. I'll be sure never to get drunk in public again. - Women of America

Everyone makes mistakes, especially young people, but the outpouring of support for the victims and their families is obscuring what ought to be a flashing neon warning for potential future victims. ...

Now, this seems to be her main message here. So, does support for the victims really "obscure" basic warnings about potentially dangerous situations? Are women really thinking, "well, next time I strip for strangers, I know I'll have the public on my side, at least" rather than "uh-oh, I should be careful?"

Few people in the world are unaware of the dangers of placing themselves in these situations. But they do it anyway - out of need, out of stupidity, sometimes precisely because it's dangerous. The obvious lesson Coulter wants the media to preach more often is quite implicit in the story itself. What should the coverage look like, then? "Now, guys, remember: this happened because you hired a stripper. No more strippers!" If nothing else, it's not very effective.

Yes, of course no one "deserves" to die for a mistake. Or to be raped or falsely accused of rape for a mistake. ... But these statements would roll off the tongue more easily in a world that so much as tacitly acknowledged that all these messy turns of fate followed behavior that your mother could have told you was tacky.

Again, I'm not convinced that the acknowledgment isn't made. If Coulter wants it to be made louder, we'd end up with a different bag of problems: would it suffice to simply say "of course the woman didn't deserve it" if the imagined warning implied that she had caused the trouble for herself? It took us as a society a while to figure out that women aren't "asking for it" and men aren't all violent, sex-obsessed dicks. It's a balancing act, and I'm not sure that the scales have tipped to the side of empathy (as opposed to warning) so much that everyone's implying it's fine to engage in any behavior because it's not your fault (and it's all about whose fault it is). That's a straw man.

Not very long ago, all the precursor behavior in these cases would have been recognized as vulgar--whether or not anyone ended up dead, raped or falsely accused of rape.

That's a charmingly naive and motherly view of our past and our present; more to the point, it reveals that Coulter's main concern here might be the ickiness of stripping, not the criminal aspects of the Natalee Holloway case.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sure, it was the Vikings

I read this in the latest issue of Premiere magazine, in a blurb about the (crummy) upcoming movie Pathfinder:

(Karl Urban, lead): "For the longest time, everyone's gone with the notion that Columbus effectively discovered America, and they forget about the Vikings, who were there [centuries] before."

Followed later by:

"In this way, [his Viking character] Ghost is kind of like the first American."

"Kind of," indeed. The story, according to Premiere, concerns a Norse baby reared by Native Americans... who would then be zeroth Americans, I suppose?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

English 2.0 Lite

Joshua Bolten, the president's new chief of staff, is ready to shake things up at the White House. According to Scott "I know you are, but what am I?" McClellan,

Josh talked about how this is a time to refresh and re-energize the team and for all of us to renew our commitment as we go forward

Man, can that cat facilitate connectivity while pushing the envelope or what?

Monday, April 03, 2006

You can't disprove lack of faith!

So, I'm sitting at Miami International Airport, watching CNN Airport Network, and a report on a medical study comes on. This is how the New York Times reported on the same:

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.

In fact, those aware of prayers being said for them did somewhat worse. The CNN report said much the same, but immediately added that "science can't prove or disprove the existence of god." We the viewers were then invited to comment on "whether science can ever prove faith."

What absolute baloney. Are we going to hear this boring question every time some religious claim is properly looked into? Many people think (and many churches maintain) that praying for someone's recovery is desirable and effective. This study concludes that, at least in the pretty general and wide format they went with, this is not true. Medical science 1, religion 0.

"But science can't disprove faith!" Who ever mentioned this? What sort of question is it anyway? No one doubts that Christians have faith - what we're skeptical of is that this faith does diddly for those in need of healthcare. Science can't "disprove" faith any more than it can disprove jealousy or tragedy. Let's get a bit more specific, or to put it more bluntly, more sincere. Daniel Dennett has recently been asking both camps to be more open and honest about their pros and cons. Ok, so it's possible that faith may provide psychological benefits to believers; let's look into it in a proper, organized way (that this way is the scientific way is rather obvious, sorry).

Look, had this study said that those prayed for recovered quicker, no Christian would be shrugging their shoulders, going "oh well, who cares. Science can't prove or disprove faith." They'd be proudly waving it around. So let's play fair; don't be a sore loser.